Sunday, September 14, 2008

Owara Tamaten

Day fifty-five: Owara Tamaten

The town of Takayama sits so high in the mountains that you can't actually see any mountains as you wander around the quiet streets. All that altitude means clean air and clean water, and by extension, sake. The town has a preserved neighborhood of low wooden buildings that are or were sake breweries; some now sell tourist tat, but a surprising number are still brewing away.

Takayama has recently supplemented its tourist appeal by becoming as universally accessible as a olde worlde town can be. Most shops and restaurants and all public facilities have been retrofitted to accommodate a variety of disabilities. Brochures highlight the local attractions that can be enjoyed by those with mobility issues, including the two smorgasbordish local markets.

At the market nearest the river a woman in a small stall dispenses owara tamaten to slavering crowds. I'd never seen these luscious little cubes before, and I guess I wasn't alone in my ignorance, because two framed signs explained the treat in Japanese and in English [sic]:

"Owara Tamaten: I pass when it beats an egg white and enter and cut the honey which came to the boil of sugar and agar to a pip after cooling it an soak it in the liquid which addes sweet sake to and egg yolk, and it is the Japanese sweet that it is ununusual which baked 6."

Hmm...I can only offer a best-guess interpretation: Somehow the sake-infused meringue-like substance is made to stiffen up enough to be cut into near-perfect cubes. As customers look on, the cubes are grilled on a large, flat griddle until all sides have a golden skin. I can't imagine that much alcohol survived the heat, but the smell alone was totally intoxicating. The warm, gooey, crusty, perfumey cube was like a toasted marshmallow from a vastly-improved parallel universe. Note that mine did not survive long enough to have its portrait taken.

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